Weekly Meal Planning for Healthy Eating Success
It takes time to plan out your weekly menu, but it is worth it. A big stress in life is deciding what to make for the family to eat every day. If I can plan the week’s meals all at once, my week will go forward with much less stress. Once my meal planning and shopping is done for the week, I have more time to look after me and my business. One of the biggest challenges my weight loss clients seem to face is taking the time to plan and prepare their food.
Have a plan
Calories, carbs, fats, proteins, organic, grass-fed, local, and humane … it can get overwhelming. While it is important to have an understanding about what you are eating, a key to healthy eating is having a plan that fits into your life. Without a reasonable plan, many people will go from meal to meal, picking up food on the go, going too long between meals, becoming very hungry and then eating the wrong foods out of cravings or convenience and often too late at night. Stress can sabotage weight loss efforts. The best antidote for stress is having a plan. Plan to succeed!
Meal planning is going to look different for a single person than for a family of six, however having a plan to eat well is always the key. Whether your goal is fat loss, muscle building or simply feeling great, you need to fuel yourself with nutritious food. In order to do that, you need to have nutritious food on hand.
Look at your schedule
This may seem obvious, but there is no point planning an oven roast if you are not going to be home in the day to put it in the oven. Plan your meals according to the time you have in your schedule. What kind of meal fits your time the best? Do you need to have something ready when you walk in the door? You could plan a slow cooker meal. Will you be home to put a casserole in the oven before taking the kids to piano lessons? If you have a half hour before supper, you can make a skillet meal.
Is it a night to rush off to soccer? Are you busy with exams? You can plan to cook extra the day before and heat up planned leftovers on the grab and go nights. You can also do a lot of food prep on the weekends or on the evening before and leave it in the fridge. I also plan to use meals that I have previously frozen for the end of the week or on very busy days.
I always sit down with my calendar in front of me to decide what kind of meal will fit into the time I have available to cook.
Plan for a week and shop once a week
While there is nothing wrong with driving to the store every day for groceries, I would rather use my time to fit in a workout. Shopping once a week also saves money because I buy only what I need. The cart is full enough! If I have to go back to the store for something else, it is too tempting to buy extra items. For more tips on shopping see https://valfitness.ca/blog/5-tips-healthy-grocery-shopping/
Try new recipes… once in a while
Trying a new recipe takes time. The first time, it often takes longer than you expect. Take on a new recipe when you have the time to spend on it. Stick to old favourites when life is busy. When you do try a new recipe and like it, make sure to store it along with the “keepers”. Be organized and keep a file or book of your favourite, healthy, “go-to” recipes.
Choose your proteins
Plan your meals around your main protein. Decide if you are having chicken, turkey, beef, fish, eggs, or a plant-based protein such as legumes (beans or lentils). First, I check the flyers first to see if any fresh meat is on sale. If so, I will plan my meals to use fresh meat since it is often easy to work with. Second, I check my freezer for previously good deals that I bought and froze. Perhaps you have frozen grass fed beef and free range poultry from a farm. Meat from the freezer should be labelled with the date it was frozen. The oldest meat should be used up first. Choose a variety of protein sources for the week and plan your meals around them.
Limit your starchy carbs
Choose up to one starchy carbohydrate per meal to go with the protein. Note that if the protein source is beans or lentils, these can also count as your carbohydrate. Examples of starchy carbs are potato, sweet potato, brown rice, barley, whole grain pasta, quinoa or other whole grain. Less processed is better! If your goal is weight loss, you do not need to have both potatoes and rice / pasta and bread in one meal. However, choosing a different starchy carb with each meal will provide a variety of nutrients over the course of the week. Quinoa is actually a complete protein plant-based food, so whether you combine it with a meat or have it as the foundation of a dish, it is a winner.
Fill up on vegetables
Choose as many vegetables as your family can eat. Vegetables are fibrous carbohydrates. They are low in natural sugars but high in fiber and valuable nutrients. Aim for a variety of colours. Go for dark green frequently. Use vegetables in recipes, have them lightly steamed on the side, and eat them raw as a salad or snack. Wash and cut up vegetables for snacking and salads when you get home from shopping. A good plan is to fill up on vegetables so you do not even think about dessert.
Avoid simple carbs
Breads, pasta, pizza and sweets should not be part of the plan. Simple carbs are easily converted to sugar which can cause a spike in blood sugar. They are often low in fiber and void of nutrients. Remember, you are fueling your body for health!
Plan for leftovers
If you are just cooking for yourself, it is often efficient to cook once and use up the leftovers for a few days in a row. On the other hand, you can cook a batch of something like a soup or stew, and freeze single portions for future meals. Families can make double batches: one for dinner and one for the freezer. You can also freeze parts of meals. I cook up fresh ground beef with onion and then freeze it in containers so that it is ready to dump into a future sauce or stew. Keep track of what you freeze and plan to use it in future meals.
In summary, having grandiose ideas about healthy eating and weight loss is great, but having a plan that works is even better!